So, when stumps were drawn at the Palam grounds on Wednesday, Mumbai’s 199/6 looked like a score, which had been reached after two teams had sparred evenly on a sporting track, with Services coming out with an edge. It wasn’t quite like that. If it weren’t for Sachin Tendulkar, who parried with a 56 (10x4, 1x6), which was classy towards the end of his 75-ball stay, the figures would have laid bare prickly questions about the sluggish track, which often saw uneven bounce, but where Services also bowled a disciplined line and frustrated the batsmen.
The first session yielded 42 runs for the fall of 3 wickets in 24 overs, the third 36 in 18 overs. The more batting-friendly second produced 121 in 36 overs, propelled mainly by Tendulkar’s 37 off 35 balls with seven fours.
In between his crisp boundaries in the morning session, Tendulkar had to take a blow on his left hand off a ball that rose sharply, and take off his gloves. He walked down the track, tapped the surface and even pointed at what seemed like a fault in the wicket. Often, he had to reach out, bending forward to meet the ball.
Post-lunch, he was on song. A couple of straight punches raced to the fence, leaving all spellbound. There were a couple of fours through covers. All his shots, even singles at times, brought out sighs from spectators, some of whom clung to the boundary fence. The best of the lot, a six over long on, came off left-arm spinner Abhishek Sinha. The end came off the next ball, as he tried the shot again only to hole out at mid-on. To the bowler’s credit, he was courageous enough to give it a loop again.
Then, it was back to the grind. To get the real measure of the effort needed on this track and the tight bowling by the seamers, one had to appreciate Abhishek Nayar’s 70. Nayar, Mumbai’s go-to man this season, grinded hard to push his side.
The game began half an hour late due to a wet outfield and the organisers, perhaps overawed by the presence of Tendulkar and the match, engaged in verbal duels while trying to enforce rules.
The BCCI, adamant on its rules of rotation, had given this prime game to Services, which boasts of a ground that is just a practice venue for international teams apart from being home to a Plate-level team. Honestly, the wicket and venue didn’t seem good enough.